02/13/08 — Students who overcame obstacles honored at counselor's luncheon

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Students who overcame obstacles honored at counselor's luncheon

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on February 13, 2008 1:48 PM

By all the criteria used to define the makings of a student destined to become a dropout, Rachel Callaham of Charles B. Aycock High School fit the bill.

When she completed her freshman year in June 2005, she had racked up more than 100 absences and earned zero credits, said school counselor Renee Dilda.

Mrs. Dilda decided to take action, involving teachers, administrators and others to "encourage Rachel, foster our relationship with her and rebuild her self-confidence."

Now a senior, Rachel's transformation has been pronounced. She has missed only 20 days of class in the last three years and is on her way to Wilson Tech to study criminal justice and law enforcement.

But her success story is not the result of an expensive intervention program, Mrs. Dilda said.

"It's confirmation of what happens when we focus on the relationships we form with our students," Mrs. Dilda said. "It's her realization of her self-worth, her pursuit of success and her desire to beat the odds."

Rachel was one of six students recognized last week at the annual county schools' counselors luncheon for having overcome obstacles in their lives to achieve.

Mrs. Dilda, who also serves as the district's lead counselor, received the first-time Counselor of the Year award.

Accepting the honor, she again emphasized the power of relationships, this time in regard to her own success.

"In the counseling group, you don't have to look very far to find good friends and good colleagues," she said. "I hope to continue to do the job that I do in the best interest of students, to advocate for them and to watch them grow and succeed."

The annual event honors students nominated by guidance counselors at each of the schools. Two each are selected from the elementary, middle and high school levels.

Jaisonah Davis was the other high school student recognized.

A senior at Goldsboro High School, she has weathered "tremendous personal issues" during her high school years, said Carol Whitley, a staff member at the school..

"Several months ago, her family was displaced and moved in with relatives," she said. Still, Jaisonah has continued attending classes while holding a part-time job that she relies upon to help pay for her car and save up for college expenses after graduation.

"She's a very mature and loyal young lady," Ms. Whitley said.

Norman Norris, a Brogden Middle School student, diagnosed as autistic, is a "beautiful child who inspired his classmates every day to be the best they can," said curriculum facilitator Gloria Burney.

"I know very little about what Norman faces on a daily basis, but I do know he has not let this define who he is."

When the seventh-grader topped his class on the math placement test, he was labeled "gifted in math," she said, and assigned to an Algebra I class of eighth-graders.

But Ms. Burney was concerned, she said, and explained to Norman it was because the class teacher was "unconventional."

"He said he didn't know what unconventional meant. I told him," she said. "He paused a moment and said, 'That's OK. I'm a little unconventional, too.'"

The other middle school recipient was Alyssa Odell of Norwayne Middle School. Her counselor, Tammy Munoz, called the 12-year-old seventh-grader "very mature for her age and truly has a desire to do her best."

Born with visual impairments and albinism, she moved to Wayne County due to a family situation and now lives with her guardians, Donald and Susan Evans. When asked to describe Alyssa, Mrs. Munoz said, "(Mrs. Evans) had one word -- fighter. She does not give up. She'll continue to do what it takes to get the job done.

"She has become a self-advocate for herself and makes her own copies of her schoolwork. ... She wants to be like the regular classroom and use the regular text."

Alyssa aspires to become an anesthesiologist one day, her counselor said. "I know she's going to do that because of her determination to make it happen."

Two third-graders were chosen from the elementary schools -- Catherine Arthur, initially at Brogden Primary and now Northeast Elementary, and Lowell Smothers, of Spring Creek Elementary.

Catherine is a "cute, sweet-faced young lady," according to Cheryl Stafford, counselor at Brogden Primary. "She seemed to be a normal third-grader."

Soon, she began exhibiting behavioral problems that escalated from refusing to enter her class or do schoolwork, to kicking and screaming and ultimately being hospitalized at one point. She was found to have a severe case of separation anxiety, Ms. Stafford said.

As Catherine stood nearby with her former and current principals, smiling and happy, one would not suspect she was the same child who had been so difficult to manage.

"She's become a mentor to her younger sister," Ms. Stafford said, noting that the sibling had begun showing the same symptoms.

Meanwhile, she added, "Catherine is emerging from her cocoon of swirling emotions into a positive, inspirational student."

As for Lowell, he has weathered much over the past year. First, his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, then in December, he learned he has diabetes. His teacher, Lisa Lewis, says he has been a champion handling both situations.

"He has managed to cope with each," she said, "and has been a propelling inspiration to us."